Silka Miesnieks, Head of Design Lab, Adobe.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Silka Miesnieks, Head of Design Lab, Adobe.

My Reading Room

“UX designers” seem to be highly sought-after today, but isn’t “user experience” a core tenant of good design. What are UX designers doing differently that designers haven’t been doing before?

I think the main difference is that UX design considers the whole user experience, not just the way something looks. In fact, the way things look is determined after you understand what the needs of your target audience are.

 A UX person will often meet with the target audience and learn about their needs and desires. They’ll try to understand the problem that they’re solving and do some research, mapping out the entire customer journey with the product to understand the path he takes and the features of the products and the issues that arise along the way, so they understand just how the product works.

Interesting. Can UX design be applied to everyday life then?

Well yes! To simplify it; you’re answering these same simple questions: Why are you creating this? What problem are you solving, and what way are you enhancing their lives? Those are the questions that you need to keep asking yourself when you’re trying to understand a problem you want to solve. 

When you try to think about the solution, you start by saying “What if?”, and you’ll find you come up with lots of different possibilities that you could be enabling. The idea is you keep generating many ideas and then you go back and see if there’s a pattern. You’ll probably find that you’re clearly trying to solve a problem in a particular way. 

You need to give yourself the freedom to have big blue sky thinking, then force yourself to do exactly the opposite and say, “This is the one thing I’m going to do.”

Not easy.

Not easy! You have to really change from being one person to another, and that’s a skill. It’s not easy, but the more you do it the more it, actually it becomes really fun. I really enjoy that process now and I can do it easily because of practice; just like riding a bike. 

What does it mean to innovate through design?

What Is innovation? It’s creativity (defining the problem) plus execution (creating the solution), and that equals innovation. You can’t have one without the other. Even Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is greater than knowledge.”

 The tools we use (like artificial intelligence) are knowledge; and we are the creative. There’s no value or meaning in the knowledge without creativity. Designers add meaning to products and services that run with artificial intelligence.

“The big mental model change designers are going to have to make is that they’re not in control of the context and the location anymore.”

In recent years we’ve gone from pen and pencil to keyboard and mouse to VR/AR headsets and voice commands. What’s next for UI?

Good question! Essentially we’ve gone from designing for paper, which is a flat surface usually defined by a rectangle to screens, which is a flat surface designed in a rectangle. We’re moving to designing in a space that has no “rectangles” and you can make things any size, any shape and any “where”. That’s a really big change. 

The good news is, from the moment you’re born, you learn what space is. There is an understanding of the world that we’ve learnt from being a baby to today; an inherent knowledge of space.

So, when we think about designing for space, we need to go back to how we operate in space every single day, not back to looking at a screen for ideas. We need to think about where we want to get information. 

In everyday life, you don’t look at a chair and want to zoom into it to get more information. So, a pinch zoom would be a bad design idea for a 3D space because it’s just unintuitive. You can’t change depth in real life! 

I’d think it gives you the opportunity to play with time as well?

Yes, the big mental model change designers are going to have to make is that they’re not in control of the context and the location anymore. And that’s going to affect everything about what you design. Light for example, can cast a shadow over what you designed. In the real world, you don’t control that, so you need to design for reality.

Space and time are two new elements that can be added to the experiences you give to people. And studies have found that the more senses you can engage the more effective the exchanges are, so there needs to be a more multi-sensory approach to design.

What’s design going to be like in the age of AI?

I think that is going to allow more people to be creative in the same way that digital publishing allowed more people to write. Desktop publishing didn’t take away the skill of the author, but it let more people get their writing published.

I feel the same way about AI and Design. I think we sometimes get stuck thinking AI is going to replace creativity, but I don’t see technology having that ability. To be able to understand a problem takes very complex nuances in human behavior to decide what problems even need to be solved, and this is not something that computers can even come close to doing. Why can’t technology enhance our capabilities with collaboration?

Photography Phyllicia Wang